Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is a fragrant, evergreen perennial herb from the mint family Lamiaceae. Thyme is an herb indigenous to the Mediterranean region, where it has been used for its medicinal properties and as a flavorful culinary herb.
Varieties of Thyme
There are more than fifty varieties of thyme, and they all have different flavors and aromas. The most common variety of thyme used in cooking is English thyme.
- T. citriodorus includes several lemon thyme varieties, orange thyme varieties, and lime thyme. Lemon thyme is loved for its citrusy undertones that may mask some of the bitterness otherwise present in common thyme. Use lemon thyme in foods that include lemon, lemon zest, or lemon juice. Sprinkle fresh on salad, add early in the cooking to roasted potatoes, or use in meat marinades. Lemon thyme sorbet might be a hit
- T. herba-barona, or caraway thyme, is a beautiful landscape cover and pungent culinary herb. It smells strongly of caraway. Use it in foods that pair with caraway, like its popular name sake recipe, a huge roast known as the baron of beef. It can also be added to sauerkraut, bread, or cooked greens.
- T. vulgaris is the kitchen queen. You’ll probably find this variety in stores and mentioned in recipe books under the names common thyme, English thyme, summer thyme, winter thyme, French thyme, or garden thyme. It’s also the most popular variety for medicinal uses too
Other varieties of thyme, like creeping thyme and woolly thyme, are used as decorative landscaping plants.
Wild thyme or Thymus vulgaris grows well in zones five through nine, where it thrives in part to full sun and is hardy through the winter. Thyme doesn’t need much water attention, which makes it popular among gardeners–this plant attracts pollinators like butterflies and bees to the garden, too.
Plant thyme in a pot indoors or out, or among other herbs or flowers in the yard or garden. Harvest thyme in the summer and late into the fall before the plant flowers. Clip several five- to six-inch, thin woody stems.
The golden hour for thyme harvesting is in the morning after the dew has evaporated.
Prune the thyme plant in spring and summer so it doesn’t get too big, unless that’s your goal. Replace or divide your thyme plant when it’s three or four years old for the most flavorful herb yield.
How to Store Thyme
Fresh thyme should be stored without washing. Washing removes the leaf’s precious essential oils, where the pungency of flavor and aroma is stored. Store fresh thyme for up to two weeks in an airtight container in the fridge.
Dry thyme by hanging it or laying on a tray in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place until the leaves fall easily from the stems when touched. Store dried thyme for up to two years in an airtight container in a cool, dry cabinet. You can also freeze whole or crushed, dried or fresh thyme for a longer period.
Cooking With Thyme
Thyme tastes earthy and barely bitter, and has notes of lemon and mint. Fresh garden thyme has the best flavor.
Thyme’s bright, light earthly flavor is often paired with tomato, egg, meat, beans, potato, oregano.
Add thyme early in the cooking process to let its pungent aroma and flavors mingle well.
Use fresh thyme with or without the stem. If your recipe calls fro a “sprig” of thyme, leave the stem.
Whole thyme sprigs are often added to soups and stews for the ease. The leaves fall off the stem during the cooking process, and the stem can removed easily before serving.
Add dried thyme or fresh thyme leaves to baking for a bright thyme taste that comes alive in baked dough, combine with other dried herbs, decorate dishes with thyme’s purple flowers, and try adding a few fresh leaves or crumpled dried thyme to salad dressing made with sunflower oil or olive oil.
A sprig of fresh thyme added to oven-roasted pork shoulder makes for one of our favorite recipes. Using an herb rub made with thyme and other dried herbs or fresh ones is ideal for savory meals.
You can use dried thyme instead of fresh thyme in nearly any recipe. Replace 1 teaspoon of dried thyme for every 1 tablespoon of fresh (ratio of 1:3). For recipes that aren’t cooked, dried thyme might not make a good substitute for fresh thyme.
Other culinary herbs that have similar profiles as thyme can be used as substitutes. Oregano, marjoram, rosemary, sage, and basil make good replacements for thyme if you’re out. Sage and rosemary have stronger flavors than thyme, so go light.
Where to Buy Thyme
If you haven’t grown your own or “borrowed” some wild thyme from the neighbors, you can find sprigs of fresh thyme in nearly every super market in the refrigerated section. Fresh sprigs are usually sold in clam shell containers near the salad dressings or refrigerated salad fixings.
Dried thyme is sold in small jars in most spice isles. It is also available online in bulk or small jars.
Thymus vulgaris essential oil and other forms of the thyme herb that contain its magical chemical composition called Thymol, are used to reduce swelling, to treat cuts and wounds and infections, to heal respiratory problems including colds and acute bronchitis, attack bacterial and fungal infections, and even to work on baldness in combination with other herbs. Thyme might be one of many natural medicines with cancer-fighting properties, too.
Be careful handling thymus vulgaris as a cultivator, since the essential oils in the leafs could lead to allergic contact dermatitis.